Portfolio high grading in good times will prevent portfolio-wrecking losses when the macro picture worsens. We’ve had Aggressive Holding Suez (Paris: SEV, OTC: SZEVY) on a very short leash the past few months. Now, thanks to strong first quarter numbers and guidance, it’s again a buy.
After a blazing first quarter 2019, shares of best in class utilities and essential services companies have largely stalled over the past month. Not only is the Dow Jones Utility Average within a point of where it was when the April issue went to post. But all month long, it never strayed more than a couple percentage points in either direction.
Conservative Holding Algonquin Power & Utilities (TSX: AQN, NYSE: AQN) has roughly $5 billion in market capitalization. It’s sparsely represented in indexes and individual investors hold nearly half the float. The result is few US-based analysts cover the stock, despite the fact that US operations generated 95 percent of the company’s 2018 revenue.
Until last month, Consolidated Communications (NSDQ: CNSL) was an anomaly in the wireline telecom business: The only company in the sector that had not cut its dividend at least once, dating back to the July 2005 initial public offering.
But starting this summer, Consolidated will pay no dividend, using the savings to pay off debt. I highlight the details in the April 29 Income Insights “Comcast’s Big Gains are its Smaller Rivals’ Pain".
Last September, I highlighted opportunities resulting from what was then a great deal of turbulence in emerging markets. By December, the selloff had finally caught up to the US market. For the highest quality global utilities like Enel SpA (Italy: ENEL, OTC: ENLAY), however, the bottom had been in since October. As a result, they were havens during the worst of the selling and went on to rally strongly in the first quarter.
There’s no faster way to grow a business than by making acquisitions. The trick few master is finding deals with upside from simply following core competencies, and made at the right price. But neither has been a problem for Conservative Holding Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners (TSX: BEP-U, NYSE: BEP).
When it comes to MLP distribution cuts, lightening often has struck several times in the same place. So it’s no wonder investors have been skeptical about Suburban Propane Partners’ (NYSE SPH) 10 percent plus distribution, since management took the hard step of a -32.4 percent reduction in late 2017.
It’s been decades since utility stocks started a year this fast. But while the Dow Jones Utility Average’s 10 percent plus first quarter return is certainly preferable to what we saw last year, we suspect that staying cool after 2019’s hot start will prove critical as the rest of the year unfolds.
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